Page 4 - Wilby English Passion
P. 4

An English Passion was composed for Matthew Owens and the choir of Wells Cathedral,
and has been designed for a liturgical performance, to take place on Palm Sunday 2019.
Scored for five soloists, double choir, and two organs, it also includes hymns to be sung by the congregation.
As the title suggests, it sets the Passion narrative against the background of an English context, rather as renaissance painters evolved a tradition of setting devotional images against natural landscapes.
The famous religious paintings of Stanley Spencer have achieved a similar relevance,
and our setting of St Matthew’s text is counterpointed against the natural background
of the English countryside. Accordingly, the melodies of the congregational hymns are taken from the collection of English tunes, published by Vaughan Williams in his ‘English Hymnal’ of 1906.
The words of Christ are reserved for the tenor soloist, whereas those of St Matthew are divided between the other voices. The music begins in the distance with a setting of the Palm Sunday Collect taken from the Book of Common Payer. The Gospel text is taken from the New Standard Revised Version.
A striking feature of St Matthew’s telling of the Passion is his use of dramatic silences. For him, Christ is portrayed as the Silent Saviour, and we have included this noteable feature in our setting. Thus the central Chiasmus, where music plays backwards and forwards like the symmetrical arms of Christ’s cross, surrounds Peter’s denial and Jesus’s repeated refusal to answer the questions of his interrogators. Silences may seem to be empty, as an absence of content, Not so the silences of St Matthew, which act as springboards for our own thoughts and reactions.
The musical setting, which demands full participation from its hearers, is designed to involve rather than impress, and may be seen by some as more suited to performance within a liturgical context. However, as many other greater settings of the Passion readily demonstrate, concert performances also have an Evangelical outreach that few can deny. The Gospel text transcends any musical composition, just as Christ’s Passion transports its witnesses to an internal space of contemplation... reaching out to all who share a common humanity, of all faiths and none.
Philip Wilby Skelton Windmill 14th Dec 2018.

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